A French friend of mine once pointed out to me that translating my book into French would pose an interesting set of problems. ‘The problem with using Monsieur Grenouille,’ she said, ‘is that it would sound kind of odd, because the French word for Frog is a feminine noun.’ Likewise, the French translation of Tadpole is masculine: un têtard.
This reminded me of the day Tadpole picked up the UK version of ‘petite anglaise’ and, after pointing out that she’d ‘growded a lot bigger since then and didn’t ever never ride in a pushchair any more’, she began to leaf through the pages, looking for words she recognised. ‘Why doesn’t it say my name in here mummy?’ she said, a few minutes later, in a puzzled voice. ‘You did say that I was in this story…’
‘Ah, well,’ I said, wondering how on earth to explain without hurting her feelings. ‘You see, I didn’t want people to know your real name, so I called you Tadpole. It’s a nickname. You know, like when I call you sausage, or princess curly top…’
‘But why can’t people know my real name?’ Tadpole frowned. ‘My real name is very pretty. Much more prettier than Tadpole.’
I was loath to launch into a scaremongering story about needing to respect her father’s wishes and protect my daughter’s identity from nutjobs. What is more, I sensed we were about to sucked into a ‘why-vortex’, inside of which each answer I give begets another question beginning with the word ‘why’ and, ten questions in, I inevitably end up screaming ‘because I said so’, or ‘because it just is’, or ‘I don’t know’, or locking myself in the bathroom. (Unless The Boy is on hand, in which case I simply say “why don’t you ask Manuel?”)
Now that I’ve finally found a suitable French home for ‘Petite Anglaise’, it’s only a matter of time before these thorny translation questions are resolved.
It’s also only a matter of time (sometime in the course of 2009, to be more precise) before the ex-in-laws can finally get their hands on ‘petite’ in translation. So while I’m thrilled to be published in my home country – the land of the highbrow – I’m also a touch nervous. If it was too much for my grandma, and JonnyB claimed he had to close his eyes during the sex scenes, I’m not sure where that leaves the beaux parents.